Photos: GP3 Media Service
The fourth season of the GP3 Series could well be the best yet. Plenty of fuss has been made about the revised car, with its more powerful and significantly louder engine as well as tweaked aero shaving up to five seconds off lap times. That has contributed to a superb grid, littered with highly-rated names and a list of potential race-winners that runs easily into double figures.
While in 2012 the strength of the leading contenders didn’t stretch all the way through the field, 2013’s line-up is a return to something similar to that of 2011. That year saw a wide-open season with an incredible ten different winners from the first ten races, before the last of those, Valtteri Bottas, put his foot down in the closing stages. The class of 2013 doesn’t quite contain as many household names, but all but a few have shown great promise before and around half of the 27 could well win a race on their day.
ART Grand Prix
1. Conor Daly
Nation: United States
2012: Sixth in GP3
Daly?s 2013 plans have been surrounded in uncertainty for most of the off-season. Tests in Formula Renault 3.5 didn’t lead to anything, but he did get a late call to race GP2 in Malaysia with Hilmer. He’s been courting opportunities back home too, entering the Indy 500.
But having spent all three GP3 pre-season tests back in the ART GP3 car, he eventually sealed a deal for a third year in the category. He starts amongst the favourites, but last year he found himself left behind by the title contenders and is yet to quite prove he’s in that group of ‘super-talented’ drivers.
And while the F1 dream is certainly still there, it’s a challenge for him to be as focussed on GP3 as his rivals when he was doing aero testing with Force India a week before Barcelona and then has one of the biggest races of the world to concentrate on afterwards.
2. Facu Regalia
2012: Fourth in F3 Open, seventh in Auto GP, no points in GP3
Regalia appeared to flash the cash a bit last year by racing in three categories at once, including taking in two GP3 rounds with two different teams. A step up to GP2 was out of even his reach, so instead he bagged himself a full-time GP3 ride with ART.
He’s looked good during testing, matching his more illustrious team-mates and even bettering them at Silverstone. It could be however that their low-key performances are just because they’re able to do a better job of reining in their speed with ART not looking to make headlines.
Whether he has the ability to be a consistent threat remains to be seen, but his best chance could come at Barcelona – effectively on home soil having moved to Spain as a child – where he took a double win at the end of the F3 Open season, driving for his manager Adrian Campos.
3. Jack Harvey
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: British F3 champion
GP3 may only seem like a small step for Harvey, but it gives him the opportunity to experience the Pirelli tyres and prepare for a likely move to GP2 next year. He’s got a benchmark in Racing Steps predecessor and 2011 runner-up James Calado, albeit Harvey comes in with two years in F3 rather than just one.
Before that he spent two years in the F1 support paddock in Formula BMW, and the fact that he nearly beat Robin Frijns to the title is a reminder of the potential that Harvey has. Neither of his years in F3 – not even his title campaign – quite lived up to those expectations, but he remains a very promising and highly-rated talent.
In theory he has to be a title contender, but he’ll need to figure at the sharp end more often than he has done in testing.
4. Carlos Sainz Jr
2012: Sixth in British F3, ninth in F3 Euro Series
Sainz will race a fourth type of car in his fourth season of single-seaters, making the switch from F3 to GP3 with backers Red Bull, perhaps in reaction to their discovery of Antonio Felix da Costa from there last year. The Spaniard was fast as soon as he got his hands on the new car, setting the pace at Estoril and remaining at the sharp end in Barcelona and Silverstone, making him a definite contender for the title.
His speed has rarely been doubted though. However, he comes off the back of a tough dual-campaign in F3, where he struggled for consistency but was hampered even more by a habit of getting caught up in incidents far too often.
The pressure will be on him to put a stop to that, but if he can stay out of trouble and convert his raw talent into regular top results, he could go very well indeed.
5. Robert Visoiu
2012: 14th in GP3
Visoiu’s move to Arden from Jenzer should equate to a move further up the grid in his second season of GP3, but he could also struggle for attention up against Marko’s golden boys. Pre-season has backed up that theory, the Romanian unable to hit the same heights as his fellow teenagers.
Last year he started what was?only his second season of single-seaters remarkably well with a podium in Barcelona, but he was quiet in the rest of the campaign. Greater experience should mean he’s capable of running closer to the front this time, but the increased competitiveness of the field could mean he struggles to make much progress.
A dual campaign in Auto GP is giving him experience of more powerful machinery, and with his wealthy father behind him he could be looking at a move to GP2 next year. Arden could provide such an opportunity, so it’s important he impresses them.
6. Daniil Kvyat
2012: Second in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Formula Renault 2.0 Alps champion
Kvyat is the oldest member of MW Arden’s baby trio, even though he only turned 19 in late April. He is the real rookie in the team though, stepping up from Formula Renault 2.0. He teams up with fellow Red Bull driver Sainz again, having been beaten by the Spaniard in Formula BMW in 2010 and Renaults in 2011.
That led to him being kept back by Red Bull in FR2.0 for a second season last year, and he didn’t quite meet the expectation of winning the Eurocup title. His 50 per cent winning record in both the Eurocup and Alps proved his potential though and he now gets to make a step up.
Without a year in F3, he won’t be expected to match Sainz this time around and GP3 will surely be a two-year project. Despite that, he is still capable of a top-five finish in the standings.
7. Luis Sa Silva
2012: 14th in F3 Euro Series
Sa Silva was the last of the full-time runners in last year’s F3 Euro Series, despite having the top team Prema running his car. He was somewhat inexperienced at that level though, with just a handful of F3 races under his belt in Germany and Austria in 2010.
Making the GP3 switch, his backers have managed to convince another crack outfit to run him in Carlin. While he was 14th in the F3 standings, the much larger and more competitive field in GP3 means he’ll likely be a lot further away from the front.
Although his CV boasts runner-up spots in Asian Formula Renault (2009) and Formula Pilota China (2011), he’s yet to show he can mix it at this level. Pre-season testing has backed that up, and it seems he’ll be running outside of the top 20 on pace this time around.
8. Nick Yelloly
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Fifth in Formula Renault 3.5
After his strong run in Formula Renault 3.5 last year, Yelloly would have looked to remain for a second season, albeit with a top team who could help him push for the title. He was unable to get that though, and has instead returned to GP3. He previously had a bad season in the category in 2011, but that was at least partly down to being with the now-parted Atech CRS team, who struggled.
This time in Carlin he’s got a very good team. Not only that, but since he has much greater experience than his two team-mates, he will be the clear team leader and the sole focus of the squad’s efforts to win races.
Last year he showed he could mix it with some of the biggest names in junior single-seaters, and the quality of the GP3 grid is such that he will need to do the same again to do well here.
9. Eric Lichtenstein
2012: Third in Formula Ford GB
Lichtenstein starred in Formula Ford last year, winning nine of 11 races in the second? half of the campaign. His GP3 move with Carlin was leaked in the media before the season ended, and he went on to make a strong first impression in testing that prompted Trevor Carlin to say he “could be a real revolution.”
Alas, in pre-season 2013 he has been much further down the order, due to an even larger increase in power for him now (plus he had no wings in Formula Ford). He’s also now one of the least experienced, so he looks set to be part of a rookie battle towards the lower end of the top 20.
If he can come out on top of that, he’ll be one to watch. He is the first product of a driver development programme run by the Velociudad F1 circuit project in Buenos Aires.
10. Samin Gomez
2012: Seventh in Formula Abarth
Gomez was another to be linked early on with a GP3 move, having tested for Jenzer at the mid-season test at Valencia in June. She steps up from Jenzer’s Formula Abarth team, where she had a respectable performance last year with two podiums, albeit only in a thin 13-car field.
She becomes GP3’s latest female driver, and might fancy her chances having beaten Vicky Piria in Abarths in 2011. But with the upgraded GP3 car providing quite a step up from Formula Abarth, the best she can probably hope for this year is to feature towards the rear of that rookie fight.
As a Venezuelan, Gomez of course enjoys strong financial backing so should be able to just use 2013 as a learning year rather than being under pressure to get results.
11. Patric Niederhauser
2012: Seventh in GP3
Niederhauser was a bit of a revelation last year, taking two races wins and finishing up as the top ‘true rookie’ (from below GP3/F3 level). Remaining with his compatriots at Jenzer gives him continuity, but while they have won races in every GP3 season so far, their ability to challenge for the title remains unproven.
Niederhauser had great race pace last year, but there’s certainly a bit more to come in ultimate pace given his best qualifying position was seventh. He seemed like one of the title favourites over the winter but the arrival of big names and other returnees has made things harder for him.
One of his biggest strengths was his ability in difficult weather conditions. It’s therefore possible that the climate between Silverstone and Spa – rounds often prone to a bit of rain – could have a significant influence on his season.
12. Alex Fontana
2012: Seventh in Formula 2, 18th in GP3
The 2011 F3 Open champion, his F2 season didn’t live up to the early promise of a double podium at the Silverstone opener. He contested the GP3 rounds in Hungary and Spa with Jenzer, scoring points at the Belgian round just as he had done in a one-off drive the year before.
Having shown that promise, it was little surprise to see Fontana finally commit full-time to GP3 for 2013, perhaps a year after he should have done. What was a surprise was him being announced as a Lotus F1 junior driver.
He’s joined team-mate Niederhauser at the sharp end of the order numerous times during pre-season testing. A title shot seems unlikely against such quality as there is on the GP3 grid this year, but Fontana could be capable of great things on his day if he can repeat his testing form.
Marussia Manor Racing
14. Tio Ellinas
2012: Eighth in GP3
Securing a deal for 2013 has been a struggle for Ellinas, certainly not helped by the financial situation back home in Cyprus. Ultimately, Marussia would have been foolish to let him go given the speed he’s shown. He’s due to test for their F1 team later this year too, as the GP3 squad’s top scorer last term.
12 months ago Ellinas had shown promise pre-season but struggled to live up to it during the campaign. That was until a stunning performance at the Monza finale where he followed a second place finish with a maiden victory.
That made him the favourite coming into 2013, and despite the disruption of not having a deal in place, he’s just about been the quickest over the pre-season. Other drivers will win races, but Ellinas’ pace is such that he could be very hard to beat over the course of the season.
15. Ryan Cullen
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Sixth in Formula Ford GB
Cullen makes the huge leap up to the new GP3 car after just a year of single-seaters in Formula Ford GB, making him the least experienced driver in the field.
He’s had his sights set on a GP3 move throughout the winter, testing first with Status at the end of 2012 and then with Bamboo during pre-season, having taken in the first two rounds of the Toyota Racing Series in-between. His race chance eventually came with Marussia Manor, taking the seat occupied by Nick Cassidy for most of the pre-season.
With less mileage than just about any of his contemporaries in the 2013-spec car and yet to drive for his new team, Cullen will be somewhat in at the deep end in Barcelona, but with a competitive team and two quick team-mates to learn from, he should progress as the year goes on.
16. Dino Zamparelli
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Eighth in Formula 2
The Anglo-Italian’s funding difficulties have been ended thanks to investors from his home city of Bristol, being promoted alongside their football and rugby clubs.
After winning the Formula Renault BARC title, Zamparelli made the big jump up to F2, forced upon him really by his lack of budget. He did a pretty decent job with two podium finishes, despite having to work hard in between races to secure the funding he needed to do the next round.
With those problems in the past, he’s now had a full pre-season of preparation for the first time and has looked competitive, even setting the sixth best time on the last day of running at Silverstone. He should be regularly in the points, but might struggle to do more than that with such competition and will likely end-up mid-pack in the standings.
Status Grand Prix
17. Jimmy Eriksson
2012: German F3 champion
Eriksson boosted his CV last year with a dominant German F3 title, having stepped back down after a quiet F3 Euro Series campaign in 2011. He’s now back in a competitive championship in GP3, and it looks like it could be even more of a struggle for him this time.
Together with the Status team, Eriksson has been nowhere in pre-season testing on the timesheets at least. They struggled to get much running in with the new car in Estoril and seem to have been on the back foot ever since, with top ten appearances much rarer than they were for the drivers he would be expecting to fight with.
Status are a good team and he is a good driver so they should get a handle on things before too long, but the sheer competitiveness of the field means top results look unlikely.
18. Adderly Fong
2012: Third in British F3 National Class, 21st in Auto GP
After concentrating mainly on racing Audi GT cars last year, Fong makes a full-time return to single-seaters with a move into GP3. He did also win seven times from eight starts in British F3’s National Class last year, but that would be expected having had two years’ experience in the top class.
He debuted in GP3 testing with Marussia at the end of last year before switching to Status this year, where he managed to secure the seat at the team run by fellow Canadian-born Teddy Yip Jr.
To his credit he showed decent pace on occasions during testing but will likely be in the bottom half of the field, particularly with Status seemingly struggling. He will have an experience advantage on most of the drivers back there, which should help him to begin with at least.
19. Josh Webster
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Formula Renault BARC runner-up
Webster has spent his three years in single-seaters so far all in Formula Renault BARC, the last of those forced by the cancellation of the UK series he was due to step up to. He could still only manage a repeat of the runner-up spot he managed the season before though.
He had been eyeing a move up to F3 or GP3, but the latter’s new car makes the jump quite a significant one. He tested with Carlin at the end of 2012 before landing a seat with Status, with a backer strong enough to dictate the team’s new purple colour scheme.
While he has shown potential, his lack of experience at this level means he’ll likely be fighting with his fellow rookies towards the rear of the field, with this set to be little more than a learning year.
20. Lewis Williamson
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: 17th in GP3
The Scotsman gets a well-deserved second chance to prove himself following his short-lived spell as a Red Bull Junior last year. A race-winner in 2011 in his rookie year out of Formula Renault UK, a FR3.5 move came too soon and he struggled badly with an Arden Caterham team taking its time to find its feet. Ditched after just five races, the achievements of his replacement Antonio Felix da Costa haven’t helped his cause.
But as a McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner, Williamson has talent. After running with Status in the second half of last year, he spent the winter testing with the Atech/Bamboo team, who sensibly handed him a race drive to help demonstrate their potential.
Bamboo will likely have a slight deficit in dry pace that could again hold him back, but he should be one to watch when wet weather eradicates that – he topped a wet day of pre-season running at Estoril and was actually a frontrunner in his final FR3.5 race at a wet Spa.
21. Melville McKee
Nation: United Kingdom
2012: Eighth in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
The cosmopolitan Brit, who was born in Singapore and has since lived in Australia, Singapore and Monaco, arrives in GP3 off the back of a strong couple of seasons in Formula Renault 2.0. He was impressively consistent in last year’s competitive Eurocup, and took three wins on his way to fourth in the Alps series the year before.
He started his search for a GP3 seat at the end of 2012 with Arden and had strong pace but not the money needed. He then missed out on the Status seat to Fong before winding up at Bamboo. It’s not an ideal base for him, but a well-deserved opportunity nonetheless.
He showed strong pace at the Silverstone test, running well inside the top ten on both days, and while he’s inexperienced, he could well spring a surprise or two if his machinery lets him.
22. Carmen Jorda
2012: No points in GP3
The collapse of the Ocean team left Jorda looking elsewhere for 2013, but the opportunity to continue in GP3 came with the Bamboo takeover of Atech and with a lack of other well-off drivers still available.
Jorda was simply out of her depth last year, even though with several years of F3 under her belt she couldn’t blame inexperience as easily as others at the rear of the field like Ringel or Piria could.
Like Ocean, the Bamboo/Atech package is not the most competitive on the grid and Jorda has still been very slow in testing ahead of this season. And with fewer lesser-talented drivers on the grid this year, she looks set for another struggle ahead.
23. Giovanni Venturini
2012: 13th in GP3
Venturini switched from Formula Renault 3.5 to GP3 during the first half of 2012 and managed to claim two podium finishes. He looked for a better team over the winter but financial constraints forced him to stick with Trident, helped by some seemingly random sponsorship from Pertamina of Indonesia.
In pre-season testing he and Fumanelli have proven with their speed that Trident are a very capable team when their drivers are capable. His experience in bigger cars from Auto GP and FR3.5 could help Venturini get to grips with the upgraded GP3 car for this year.
He should be able to increase his podium tally, but there have been no signs yet that any more is really possible.
24. David Fumanelli
2012: 11th in GP3
Fumanelli arrived in GP3 last year with Arden on a strong run of form from F3 Open and winter testing, but he was unable to really live up to that potential, scoring just one podium finish. He went very well with Arden in post-season testing at the end of 2012, but he didn’t have the money to keep his place in the seat.
Like they did for Venturini, Trident offered refuge for a promising Italian driver. He has repaid their faith in testing at least, going very quickly to top the last day of running at Silverstone in particular.
If he can keep up that sort of performance, he will win races. His consistency is less certain, however, and a title push would seem to be just that – a push.
25. Emanuele Zonzini
Nation: San Marino
2012: Fifth in Formula Abarth
Zonzini was Trident’s first signing for 2013 after some good post-season testing runs with the Italian team, as well as with top outfit ART. His CV consists of two years of Formula Abarth, where last year he finished third in the Italian classification and a close fifth in the European campaign which included two extra rounds.
He is still very inexperienced, so this will be little more than a learning year for him. In Venturini and Fumanelli he’s got two quick, experienced and fellow Italian-speakers who could help to bring him on massively.
On track, he will be hoping to get the better of other rookies like Webster, Lichtenstein and Kujala before becoming a more competitive factor next season.
26. Patrick Kujala
2012: Sixth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Born and raised in Spain, Kujala is the youngest of the 2013 crop, only turning 17 next week. Despite that, he’s still got two years of single-seaters behind him. He was a strong fifth in French F4 in 2011 before moving on to Formula Renault 2.0 with Koiranen last year.
He was unable to make any impression in the super-competitive Eurocup but shone in the Alps series where he took seven fifth-place finishes, (but oddly no top fours!) on his way to top rookie honours. Another year in FR2.0 wouldn’t have hurt him but was an obvious candidate for Koiranen to promote into their new GP3 squad. He’s well backed too, the logos of his sponsor Novomatic adorning the sidepod of all three Koiranen cars.
He’s shown decent promise in testing and could spring a surprise result, but will most likely be fighting with similarly inexperienced drivers.
27. Aaro Vainio
2012: Fourth in GP3
When Vainio truly emerged with his Monaco victory last year, delivering on his karting promise, nobody would have expected him to end up doing a third season of GP3. But his 2012 campaign got worse as it went on, falling out of title contention and down to fourth in the standings, beaten by ‘rookie’ team-mate Daniel Abt, who got a promotion to ART’s GP2 team.
Manager Nicolas Todt was no longer interested in funding his career, and with little backing of his own, Vainio found refuge with his fellow Finns at Koiranen. At least with the upgraded car he can still consider another year of GP3 a step forward.
Although he’s the best-placed returning driver from last year, it would be naive to see him as the pre-season favourite given the team are new. Testing was quiet, but Koiranen know what they’re doing and should allow Vainio to prove himself more as the year goes on.
28. Kevin Korjus
2012: Tenth in Formula Renault 3.5
Korjus’ story is remarkably similar to that of Vainio. After a disappointing second season in Formula Renault 3.5, he lost the financial support of Gravity. He grabbed a lifeline from Koiranen, who ran him to the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 title back in 2010.
Again, the more powerful car makes GP3 more a sideways step than a backwards one, particularly with benefits like getting knowledge of the Pirelli tyres and the chance to race on Formula 1 weekends.
Like Vainio he was quiet in testing as Koiranen overcame teething trouble, with the occasional glimmer of pace, particularly in the wet when driving ability becomes more important than speed in the car. If he’s not at the sharp end from the start, he’ll hope to become more of a threat as the year goes on.